If you are in the business of consulting, working with good clients is imperative. Consulting is so high touch, clients can, literally, make or break you. In order to have good clients, however, you first have to have good leads. But finding good leads can be difficult at times.
And in times when business is slow, it might be tempting to contract with a client that's less-than-ideal, just to fill-up "billable hours." But if we’ve learned anything from people like Bill Gates, it’s that you should always play the long game. In this situation, it means not settling and, instead, finding clients that are hungry to learn and absolutely committed to success.
Here are a few tips to help you target ideal leads...
Are they in-touch with reality?
Hiring consultants and agencies is a perfectly normal business practice, because let’s face it, no one person has reached the apex of human knowledge and understanding. In order to continue improving ourselves and each other, we must trade our collective knowledge and resources with each other. Don’t trap yourself within an echo chamber and cut yourself off from the market.
When looking for a client, try to evaluate their experience in working with outside consultants and agencies. It may be worth it to try to "free them from their echo chamber" if they haven’t worked with a consultant before. But be warned: they may be deep-seated in their ideals and practices and this could make it difficult to advise them.
Additionally, they may be hesitant to hire an outside consultant because their in-house marketing specialist ended-up not having the qualities they anticipated, and this experience has left them skeptical about "marketing."
Lastly, observe the relationship they have with their consumer as another way to gauge how "in touch with reality" they are. For example, a consultant may advise the use of fair trade materials in the development of a product, because while it may cost more to produce, it would have a broader appeal to its consumers. In this situation, if the client is hesitant to do "the right thing," you may find it hard to properly coach them towards success.
Do they have growth potential?
Has the prospective client shown registered growth and do they have room to grow even more? It's extremely important that you are able to assess the first before following with the second. It's one thing for a prospect to have done everything they could to grow their business prior to reaching out for help, but it's a completely different thing for a prospect to reach out and expect a consultant to magically transform their business. Lack of growth due to ignorance is a bit more forgivable than laziness, but you can still inquire whether a prospect has attempted to read articles, attend a seminar, or otherwise before reaching out.
Do they have a desire to learn?
That brings us to the third factor to consider: their desire to learn. If a client asks a lot of questions, sate their curiosity! Teach them how you will improve their business because the more they can comprehend how your work will help them, the more they will value you.
One of two other things will happen as well:
1. They will either cede more control to you after coming to the realization that they are in over their head, which is good for you or...
2. They will dig their heels in and work to become as knowledgeable as possible with the hopes of being able to eventually accomplish what they initially couldn't, providing you with a challenge.
Now, if knowledgeable clients intimidate you, you’re in the wrong business. Working with well-read clients has the two-fold benefit of making your job easier, but also keeping you at the top of your game, because they can call you out when you’re not. If your client knows more than you, why would they hire you? Not to mention, there is no disadvantage to consistently being at the forefront of knowledge in your field.
Take time to evaluate your current clients and prospects to see if they would have passed these small tests initially. Is there something to learn from these experiences? Then, use these experiences and the three little "litmus tests" when looking for future business!